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Two Years Before the Mast (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Two Years Before the Mast
Directed byJohn Farrow
Screenplay bySeton I. Miller
George Bruce
Based onTwo Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
Produced bySeton I. Miller
StarringAlan Ladd
Brian Donlevy
William Bendix
Barry Fitzgerald
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byEda Warren
Music byVictor Young
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 22, 1946 (1946-11-22)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$4.4 million (US/ Canada rentals) [2][3]
1,270,487 admissions (France)[4]

Two Years Before the Mast is a 1946 American historical adventure film directed by John Farrow and starring Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy, William Bendix, and Barry Fitzgerald. It is based on Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s travel book of the same name and was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures.

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Brian Donlevy, Esther Fernández and Alan Ladd in a promotional picture of the film.

In 1834, Charles Stewart, the spoiled, dissolute son of a shipping magnate, is shanghaied aboard the Pilgrim, one of his father's own ships. He embarks upon a long, hellish sea voyage under the tyrannical rule of Captain Francis Thompson, assisted by his first mate, Amazeen. One of his crewmates is Richard Henry Dana Jr., who will ultimately recount the entire voyage in a book.




In 1936, Republic Studios announced plans to make a version of the film starring James Dunn and produced by Bert Clark.[5][6] Actor Lew Ayres was mentioned as a possible director[7] and Lionel Barrymore, or, if he refused, Walter Connolly was going to star.[8] The movie was meant to be an attempt by Republic to move into bigger budgeted productions.[9] Negotiations with Barrymore, Connolly and Fredric March fell through and the studio tried to sign Henry Wilcoxon.[10]

Republic never made the movie. Edward Small announced plans to film the book in 1939 under his deal with United Artists.[11] However this was postponed when World War II was declared, as Small was reluctant to make such an expensive film in an uncertain marketplace.[12] Plans to film the book were again announced in 1940 and 1941 but no movie resulted.[13] Paramount eventually bought the rights off Small in 1943, including a script Seton I Miller had written for the producer in 1939; Miller had since become a writer and producer at Paramount. Alan Ladd was announced as star.[14]


In March 1944 it was announced Ladd would be re-inducted into the army but that this would be delayed so he could make Mast.[15]

Brian Donlevy was originally going to play the sadistic captain but was given the role of Dana instead. Howard da Silva, who had just achieved fame playing Judd in Oklahoma! on Broadway, played the captain.[16]

Mexican film star Esther Fernández had been signed to Paramount for two years without making a film. John Farrow watched some test footage she made and was impressed; she was brought back to play the female lead.[17]

Due to war time restrictions – notably lack of transport – Paramount had endured many logistical difficulties filming the pirate movie Frenchman's Creek on location. This prompted them to decide to shoot Two Years Before the Mast entirely within the confines of the studio. Seascapes and soundscapes from Paramount's Souls at Sea (1937) were re-used.[18]

The film heavily dramatised the novel but attempted to be faithful. "Dana's tale is so well known that we shall have to stay close to the line of his yarn", said John Farrow, "Especially in the characters."[19] Extensive research was done on the project for six months prior to shooting.[19]


Filming began in May 1944 and took 69 days.[19] "We could do it in less but we've got to allow stubble to grow", said Farrow. "Chins have got to grow over with gray plush. May cost a hundred thousand. Depends on how long it takes those chins to sprout. But meantime, we can be shooting storms and Miss Fernandez."[19]

Alan Ladd injured his back during filming and had to miss a week of shooting.[20]

The movie was shot on three studio sound stages. Four stage were combined into one, for the interiors. There was another stage holding the water tank. Two models of the ship were built at a total cost of $150,000.[21] Paramount were so pleased with Da Silva's performance they signed him to a seven-year contract.[22] Darryl Hickman, who played the cabin boy, also impressed and was signed to a long-term contract.[23]


The film was not released until late 1946, after the release of several films Ladd made subsequent to Mast: Salty O'Rourke, The Blue Dahlia and O.S.S.. This also meant that Barry Fitzgerald, who became a star in Going My Way (1944) while the film was waiting for release, was upped to above the title billing.

Box office

Two Years Before the Mast was one of the most popular films released in the US that year, Los Angeles Times describing it as "a phenomenal hit".[24] Variety listed it as the tenth most popular movie of 1946.[3]


  1. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Feb 14, 1944). "'Two Years Before Mast' Personnel Assembling: Peter Lawford Chosen as Greer Garson Suitor; Noted Veterans on Active List". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  2. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers". Variety. 8 January 1964. p. 69.
  3. ^ a b "60 Top Grossers of 1946". Variety. 8 January 1947. p. 8.
  4. ^ French box office of 1947 at Box Office Story
  5. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 3, 1936). "James Dunn Going to Sea in Classic Story, "Two Years Before the Mast": Other Players Cast in Important Roles Ernst Lubitsch Begins Organization of His Film Unit; Virginia Bruce to Appear in "Born to Dance; Young Going Abroad". Los Angeles Times. p. A19.
  6. ^ "PARAMOUNT PLANS 40 FEATURE FILMS: Scheduled for Production in Six Months Beginning Next August. MAY RISE TO 80 IN YEAR Republic Announces Titles of Fifty Pictures to Be Made During Coming Season". New York Times. June 5, 1936. p. 16.
  7. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 26, 1936). "Lew Ayres Will Act in His Second Paramount Film, "Murder With Pictures": Player Also Will Direct Dana Classic Doris Nolan to Play "Flying Hostess;" Youngster Cast". Los Angeles Times. p. 15.
  8. ^ "NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Bette Davis Makes a Choice But the Warners Frown -- Republic Expands Its Production Program". New York Times. Aug 24, 1936. p. 11.
  10. ^ "SCREEN NEWS". New York Times. Sep 14, 1936. p. 25.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Mar 28, 1939). "Marshall Will Play in 'My Son, My Son': Europe Lures Notables Students Belittle Stars Tommy Kelly Assigned Ann Sheridan's New Role". Los Angeles Times. p. 15.
  12. ^ DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL (Sep 10, 1939). "PRODUCERS GIRD FOR WAR: The Cinema Capital Contemplates Its Probable Effects Upon the Industry". New York Times. p. X3.
  13. ^ "Of Local Origin". New York Times. Apr 1, 1941. p. 29. author|=
  14. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount to Film 'Two Years Before Mast' -- 2 Broadway Openings This Week". New York Times. Dec 6, 1943. p. 21.
  15. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount Plans a Remake of 'The Virginian' -- Two New Films Open Here Today". New York Times. Mar 4, 1944. p. 11.
  16. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Apr 11, 1944). "Astaire, Kelly Will Vie in 'Ziegfeld' Number". Los Angeles Times. p. A10.
  17. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Esther Fernandez, Mexican Star, Gets Romantic Lead -- German War Films Here". New York Times. Apr 26, 1944. p. 24.
  18. ^ FRED STANLEY (Mar 12, 1944). "A BELATED TRIBUTE TO G.I. JOE: Hollywood Discovers the Infantry in Filming 'Here Is Your War' -- Seafaring on the Back Lot Is the New Order". New York Times. p. X3.
  19. ^ a b c d IDWAL JONES (July 23, 1944). "'ROUND THE HORN ON A HOLLYWOOD SET: Synthetic Seas and Painted Cities Frame a Saga Of Sailing Days". New York Times. p. X3.
  20. ^ "ACTORS ATTEND SCHOOL OF SEAMANSHIP". The Advocate. Burnie, Tasmania. 22 October 1948. p. 10. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ "Ships". Sea Improvised in Dana Film Los Angeles Times. June 25, 1944. p. C1.|author=
  22. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Sol Lesser to Make Film on the Air Service Command -- 'Days of Glory' at Palace". New York Times. June 16, 1944. p. 14.
  23. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Sep 4, 1944). "Gloria lean to Wax Dramatic in Thriller: Ann Todd to Double for Star Russell; Studio Prologues 'Roughly Speaking'". Los Angeles Times. p. 9.
  24. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Dec 9, 1946). "Bing Will Harmonize With Andrews Sisters". Los Angeles Times. p. A2.

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This page was last edited on 28 July 2023, at 02:06
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